Campus “Anti-Racism” Is a Degenerating Research Program

A theory that cannot accommodate reality is fatally flawed.

Ancient and medieval astronomers could not explain the apparent movements of the heavenly bodies while shackled to a Ptolemaic paradigm of an Earth-centered universe. Thus they spun out ad hoc rescue hypotheses in the form of “epicycle” theory to explain away the anomalies. Their primary concern was the rescue of the theory rather than a reconsideration of it, which forced reality into a Procrustean bed—producing conformity by arbitrary means.

Likewise, today’s project known as “anti-racism” exhibits the same pre-Enlightenment mindset of mystical thinking that locked medieval humanity into an endless cycle of fear, superstition, and what we know today as pseudoscience.

When proponents of a theory reach the point where they spend more time rescuing their pet from disconfirmation than they do illuminating reality, they reveal themselves as harnessed to what Imre Lakatos called a “degenerating research program.” This is the current deteriorating state of critical racialism and “Critical Race Theory,” which are often subsumed under the generality of “anti-racism.”

“Anti-racists” spend more time rescuing their theory from disconfirmation than they do illuminating reality.The chief bête noire of this movement is, of course, “racism.” To keep the theory alive, said “racism” is posited as a permanent condition, for instance in a book of fables by Derrick Bell. Anti-racism’s ostensible research agenda is fragmented into subgenres, each of which attracts supplicants to contribute mites to the central myth—“Critical Whiteness Studies,” “Microaggressions,” “Diversity Science,” “White Guilt,” and others.

Each of these subgenres has generated an affective literature of feelings-based essays that, in some cases, attempt to pass as “scientific.” This schizophrenic oscillation between pseudoscience and wanna-be science is characteristic of the entire anti-racist oeuvre.

Indeed, sclerotic thinking—which mimics scientific forms and reflexively adjusts its flailing with a stream of ad hoc “explanations”—is a key marker of a degenerating and unsalvageable research program. Thus, facts that do not comport with the theory (e.g., black-on-black crime) are deemphasized, ignored, or explained away in a tortured manner so that they “fit” the model. Anyone who opposes the rickety, pseudoscientific structure that is critical racialist ideology is met with a fierce and hostile retort. Why this should be so is obvious.

Racism is especially needed on college campuses, so that bureaucracies can be staffed, budgets inflated, control increased, and bombastic pronouncements of “anti-racism” issued by public-relations apparatchiks. Thus, we see the constant manufacturing of new varieties of “racism” to accommodate a cascade of facts that threaten to inundate the paradigm. These constitute “rescue hypotheses.”

A “rescue hypothesis” is an auxiliary theory or explanation that is spun out to account for anomalies in a macro-theory. They are meant to save a theory from falsification and to transform anything that happens into a confirmation. Every inconvenient dissonant fact can become a new “racism.”

By my count, we now have more than 20 different types of “racism,” as well as increasing use of neologisms and ad hoc pseudo-explanations to dismiss, without explanation, various disconfirmations and counter-instances. Call these “rescue racisms.”

The cavalcade of rescue racisms begins with “laissez-faire racism, color-blind racism, symbolic racism, cultural racism, aversive racism, racial resentment, modern racism, and subtle racism,” a list found in the book The Changing Terrain of Race and Ethnicity. Other rescue racisms include “ideological racism, hi-tech racism, identity racism, environmental racism, and police racism,” found in the journal article “Racism: Origin and Theory,” as well as “racist nativism,” “monoracism,” “anti-blackness,” and “everyday racism,” all found in the book Rethinking College Student Development Theory Using Critical Frameworks.

Racism is needed on campuses, so that bureaucracies can be staffed and budgets inflated.Astonishingly, there is also “dysconscious racism,” “epistemological racism,” “silent racism,” “linguistic racism,” “liberal racism,” and “cyber racism,” as well as “class racism,” “queer racism,” and “space racism” all found in Ibram Kendi’s book How to Be an Antiracist. Finishing up (for now), we find “academic racism” and “bureaucratic racism,” which were expressed to me by a huffing faculty member at my own university.

One of the most recent neologisms is grounded in what I call “racial proxemics.” This is the recently adopted ad hoc method of “explaining” away disconfirmations of anti-racism by appealing to the core myth of “white supremacy.” The word used is “adjacent.” This adjacency has great utility.

For instance, given a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that guarantees 14th-Amendment protection in college admissions, American Asians are now “white-adjacent,” which preserves the critical racialist theory, adds no new information, but calms the doubts of the slow-minded.

The great philosopher of science Karl Popper recognized that the enthusiasm of sociologists and psychologists can lead them to “be swept along by the tide of a new ruling fashion into a new framework,” one whose fundamentals are resistant to challenge or even discussion. He called this the Myth of the Framework, in which a radical revolution often looks like a “religious conversion.”

Such degeneration is typical of a religious ideology that conforms less to the outside world than to the prejudices of “anti-racist” ideologues. The ideologues spend more time explaining away their anomalies than recognizing the profound absurdity of their project. As Popper observes,

Far from being places of critical discussion they make it their task to impart a definite doctrine, and to preserve it, pure and unchanged. It is the task of a school to hand on the tradition, the doctrine of its founder, its first master, to the next generation, and to this end the most important thing is to keep the doctrine inviolate.

Rather than improving their explanations of the world, ideological models such as “anti-racism” validate themselves by seeking confirmations and by selecting and shaping the facts of the larger world to conform to the model. They can become imperialistic and a colonizing force as their adherents seek to expand the scope and extend the reach of the ideology.

“Anti-racism” selects and shapes facts to conform to the model.The collection of urgencies and pathologies called “anti-racism” serves as a fetish for the power-seeking, the mentally ill, and the simple-minded, who offer opinion pieces grounded in their own “lived experience” or in “thick descriptions” of curated focus groups comprising 6-10 persons, all of whom already agree on the premises provided.

In sum, the project of “anti-racism” constitutes a mashup of redefinitions, storytelling, counter-narratives, conspiracy theory, narcissism, paranoia, delusions of persecution, cargo cultism, confirmation bias, and pseudoscience. Squeezed between the falsification of Karl Popper and the degenerating research program of Lakatos, these folks are left with nothing save the repetition of slogans and the constant tweaking of a theory that just doesn’t reflect reality.

It is long past time to acknowledge the anti-intellectualism that permeates so-called “anti-racism” and its degenerating research program and to treat it in the same manner as we do alchemy, astrology, and the pseudoscientific project of Marxism. Doing so can only improve our campuses.

Stanley K. Ridgley, Ph.D., IMBA, is clinical full professor at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business. He is a former military intelligence officer with a Ph.D. from Duke University and has taught in Russia, China, India, Spain, and Colombia. He is the author of Brutal Minds: The Dark World of Left-Wing Brainwashing in Our Universities.